Posts Tagged ‘ Divvy

Bike Share

Last weekend, for the first time, I took advantage of one of the city bike programs that seem to be spreading from city to city throughout the US. I never really had cause to use it in Minneapolis and still don’t in San Francisco, as that’s what my own bike is for. I’d thought about jumping on one when the initially unveiled it in the Twin Cities, just to see what those giant green bikes were like, but I guess my curiosity wasn’t worth whatever it cost then. But in Chicago, I had a great opportunity to try them out. At $7 a day with unlimited rides under 30 minutes, it wasn’t much more expensive than trying to take the bus and figure all of that out, and it certainly gave me a good deal of flexibility. Here are some observations based on a couple days of pedaling around Chicago on a Divvy:

The kinds of trips I took were just about perfect for these sorts of bikes. It was about 4 miles from where I was staying to Union Park, where I was going every day, with a direct route down a road that (mostly) had a bike lane. With the 30 minute cap before you incur a fee, that’s seems to be the idea behind it, or at least the intent behind the fees, to keep you from riding too long, to keep the bikes in circulation, whatever. Anything under a mile feels fairly walkable to me (well, that’s not true…everything is walkable in San Francisco). But a bike really helps make those trips between 2-5 miles a bit more manageable. Honestly, I doubt it would have taken me much less time to drive the same distance, especially factoring in parking by the festival. Not that a car was an option I had on the table this weekend. Just comparatively speaking.

Speaking of driving time, I think that is one of the most worthwhile aspects to these kinda of programs. I already know that it doesn’t take much longer to ride on those short trips. In many cases it can be shorter. Hopefully more people realize that after some time in these.

The stations themselves were frequent enough that I didn’t have to think about it too much. While it would have been more difficult 10 years ago to implement an idea like this, now you’re a smartphone app away from being able to not only find the nearest station, but the availability of bikes. Of course, you still have to have that smartphone. The stations also do a good job of telling you where nearby stations are if you have issues (no space to park, no bikes, etc.), provided you know the city in question. Each morning, I was able to pick a station appropriately close to wherever I had breakfast, and I even was able to entertain the notion of hopping on one of the bikes to go a bit further to get my breakfast. The access really broadened my thoughts about where I could go in the city without dealing with cars or transit.

Nothing will ever break those bikes. It felt like pedaling a solid mound of stone. But that’s what they are designed for, aren’t they? They need to withstand multiple rides from people in addition to the streets of Chicago. Halsted had some potholes that would put Interstate Park to shame. While I’m sure they do have issues occasionally (and I did pull one that had a seat that would not adjust), on the whole, they are built to withstand whatever abuse you might put them through. Which is good, because I’m guessing they need to be.

You aren’t going anywhere too quickly on them. Because of their weight and their relative simplicity (three gears), you aren’t gonna see anyone whipping through city streets on those. Again, I’m sure that’s somewhat by design. I had to make some minor mental adjustments as I rode because of that; I saw lights that my brain said I could make only to remember that I was not on my own bike and I was not getting this thing through the intersection in time. That is probably okay especially for safety’s sake.

I can’t make a direct line comparison (I haven’t ridden my bike in Chicago), but it’s easy to imagine that other vehicles on the road treated me differently than they would have had I been on my bike. Again, it was just a thought I had. I don’t really have a way to test that, so take that as you will.

The process isn’t that hard, but it still feels a bit long. I get why they need some of that information. I get they have to ask those questions. Perhaps I could have registered some information online to make it quicker. And it wasn’t that much. Just that the menus took a bit more navigation. I don’t know why they asked for my zip code, whether it was to run the card or to run some metrics, or perhaps both. But it also didn’t feel like much more than the CTA asked me when I tried to get train passes. So perhaps I’m just spoiled with my own bike and a Clipper card.

The app is a pretty great thing. It’s nice to be able to look up the stations, and more importantly whether or not there are any bikes there. Unfortunately, it didn’t save me any time because…

I discovered multiple stations in Chicago where the card readers didn’t work. Due to the nature of the system, you have to dip your card (their terminology) every time you get a bike. Which makes sense, but is unfortunate when you find a station that doesn’t work. I had to go to three stations both Friday and Saturday night before I found a bike either due to that issue or lack of availability by the time I got to the next station.

I cannot imagine using a bike like that in a city like San Francisco. Chicago is blessedly flat. I already bike everywhere. I’ve gotten used to the constant hill-climbing that is riding anywhere in San Francisco. Don’t get me wrong, the payoff on the downhill is nice. But it was a nice change of pace to be someplace where there was almost no climbing the entire 4 miles. On one of these bikes, it just seems like it’d be a slow and tiring affair. That is probably why there only seem to be stations down in the Financial District, SoMa, and such. The converse is they are much better suited for a city like Chicago.

Who compromises the annual user base? I saw a few of them. Or at least, that seemed to be why people could just go up and use something (a key?) directly next to the bike to get one while I dipped my card and waited for a new code. I am mostly curious what the reasons. $75 isn’t that much (which is what I think the annual fee was), but I wonder who those people are. Because if you were doing a lot of riding, it seems like even just finding a cheap beater bike at a local shop or on Craigslist would also be an effective option. Then again, if all the rides they are doing are short distances, and they don’t have the space, and more importantly, they don’t want to deal with the occasional hassle of owning a bike, I can totally see any of that. There are definitely valid reasons for not wanting to own a bike. I feel like they are less extreme than not wanting to own a car (it’s definitely significantly cheaper), but they are still valid. And now I’m just a bit curious. I hope they gather that kind of into to strengthen these programs.

I saw quite a few people on them. This is a good thing. Yes, there are plenty of reasons to not ride a bike, and for plenty of people it’s not a good option. But for a lot of people they are a good option. So if this is something that gets them out there using them more, that seems like a great thing to me. Even with the dipping and the codes and finding the station, it’s a pretty quick to get the bike and get moving. It’s even easier to get rid of the bike when you are done, just find a station and lock it in. Bikes are a great way to get around for short trips. And having a system that makes that easy is a good thing. These systems definitely make it easy.

It’s not like I’m trading in my bike tomorrow. But I can see the appeal of these sorts of programs. And I’m glad to see they are finding users. More people on bikes hopefully helps beget better infrastructure for bikes. More people on bikes hopefully helps those people recognize what it’s like to be a bike on the road the next time they get in their car. More people on bikes is a good thing. I can’t wait to see more of it.

 
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